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May 19, 2007

Deaf people not well served by Liberals

From: Sudbury Star, Canada - May 19, 2007

/ Excerted from The Belleville Intelligencer
Editorial - Saturday, May 19, 2007 @ 09:00

The province is failing in its role in ensuring all citizens are treated equally by dismantling American Sign Language programs and support services for deaf and hard of hearing children. The erosion of these services - in favour of oral or auditory-verbal programs - flies in the face of a court decision in 1989 that extended the right to the deaf to have ASL taught in classrooms.

Some deaf students walked out of class at deaf schools across Ontario last week to press for their rights and to raise awareness of the issue. Advocacy groups sought audiences with Ontario and Ottawa by holding rallies at Queen's Park and on Parliament Hill.

Why is the province so adamant about making sign language disappear, as it has been accused by critics? Apparently, advancements in technology are a factor in the government's thinking, but the advocacy groups for the deaf suggest that thinking is short-sighted.

And it doesn't explain the government's ongoing delays in implementing the education rights the deaf have won.

The new technology involves cochlear implants, small complex electronic devices that do not restore normal hearing but can give a deaf person sounds that can lead to understanding speech.

The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto does more cochlear implants than any other hospital in North America. But the hospital clearly states on its website that the implants do not hold any guarantees for the deaf.

According to the Ontario Association for the Deaf, children enrolled in oral programs have a dropout rate of 62 per cent by the time they reach high school.

Only 1.7 per cent of the deaf earn a university degree and the number of deaf students enrolled in post-secondary institutions has fallen by 50 per cent in just two years.

Clearly, sign language is the choice for the deaf, and oral programs and cochlear implants can help, but they don't fully meet their needs.

Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne says the government has been consulting with the deaf and is working to implement some standards and regulations for schools.

When confronted by the protesting deaf students last week, Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Ernie Parsons acknowledged the services should have been implemented years ago.

Further, he said he has introduced a private member's bill to have sign language recognized as an official language.

But if the province is about to reveal new standards and finally fulfil its obligations to the deaf, what is the point of the bill? Especially in light of Parsons' acknowledgement that the bill stands no chance of being passed before the election Oct. 10.

With a school for the deaf located in his riding, Parsons and his government should have been working to right this wrong long ago rather than patronizing the deaf with meaningless gestures.

In reality, when it comes to the deaf, it is the province that needs educating.

© 2007 Sudbury Star